LotRFI Pt. 33–Of The Dead Marshes

I like to credit Tolkien as the first author I ever read whose use of structure or style to elicit emotion I became aware of. I always knew that writers used plot to guide the reader, but this was something different. It started in the Shire. I became anxious that the hobbits should be off and that the story was taking so long. Then I realized that this was probably the same kind of emotion which Frodo must have: an anxiety of leaving, but an anxiousness to start.

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Image copyright Katrin Eissmann

This realization opened literature to me. I may very well have been projecting this back into the story, but it was a significant factor in my enjoyment of the story. I realized, for the first time, that the writer was trying to take my mood into account in his style or method of telling the story, not just with the plot itself.

This feeling redoubled for me as I went through the Marshes. The Dead Marshes were such a dreary place. I do not know if it took me longer to read the Frodo and Sam half of TT, but it certainly felt like it did. I felt like I plodded along through these sections at a miserably slow pace. I think the consistently dark landscape and the unrelenting sense of foreboding were tiring to me. Additionally, reading Gollum’s lines was difficult. There are a lot of linguistic complexities which made me slow down.

In all, my reading experience of book IV was very different form my experience of book III. I must admit that I enjoyed the story surrounding Rohan much more than I enjoyed the darker tale of the approach to Mordor. It is not until much later that I began to appreciate each book, and the latter grew in my estimation.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk a little bit about Sam and his emphasis of creature comforts.

What Do You Think?

Was your reading experience of the second half of TT different from that of the first?
How did you feel while reading these passages?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.31–Gimli

My fondness for Gimli grew very much over the course of book III. Since the passages in and around Moria were the highlight of my prior experience with Gimli, there was not a lot of character development to him other than his obstinacy and tendency to argue against everything Legolas mentions. Basically, I did not read him as a well-defined character until book III.

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Image copyright Matt Stewart

I believe that this started in the passages of the Three Hunters. The fact that the Fellowship has shrunk to three characters allows for each of them to have more meaningful interaction, and I felt like Gimli’s character really benefitted the most from it.

I loved his indomitable spirit as the three run after the Uruk-Hai to rescue their abducted companions. He is not the punch line of every joke, as Jackson makes him out to be. He shores up the spirits of his companions. At the outset he proclaims:

‘Dwarves too can go swiftly, and they do not tire sooner than Orcs’ (TT, III, I, 420).

Even more, he is not as simple as Jackson would have us believe. He offers good counsel to Aragorn at a crucial decision:

‘Only by day can we see if any tracks lead away…even I, Dwarf of many journeys, and not the least hardy of my folk, cannot run all the way to Isengard without any pause…and if we rest, then the blind of night is the time to do so’ (TT, III, ii, 425).

So from this section on I always saw Gimli as a fully-formed character. What really made me like Gimli, however is his interaction with Merry and Pippin upon catching up with them at Isengard. His exasperation with the hobbits and his amicability after tobacco is offered as a means of amends endeared him to me. Gimli became a character that I truly enjoyed over this section.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A visit with Saruman, then on to the Dead Marshes.

What Do You Think?

Did you like Gimli’s character?
When did you develop your opinion of Gimli?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

 

 

LotRFI Pt. 26–The White Rider

When the Three Hunters encounter a mysterious old man in Fangorn, I immediately assumed it was Saruman. His way of speaking was so obvious an attempt to avoid revealing his identity from them. There is no reason for anyone else to wish to conceal who they are so completely. The confrontation between the Hunters and the old man is so tense and the stakes so high, unexpectedly, that I thought for a moment that the Hunters would be executed in quick succession.

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Image copyright Ted Nasmith

When this is revealed to be Gandalf, I still had a hard time understanding why he did not reveal himself straight away. Was he testing the Three Hunters? This would be similar to what Aragorn does back at the Prancing Pony with the hobbits. Surely, the powers of evil have set traps for Gandalf before!

It took me a long time to accept that Gandalf has memory issues here, and I still doubt it sometimes. He remembers so much, and is not newly revived, so I did not understand why he should have forgotten who he is when he can remember who Galadriel and Gwaihir are. All this nit picking aside, the return of Gandalf was a complete shock to me.

Of all the miraculous things that happen in books, one that I certainly never expected was the return of Gandalf. The warmth and joviality that the Three Hunters express is as nothing compared to the elation of my little eleven-year-old heart. Especially with the tidings which he brings with him. He tells the others:

Indeed my friends, none of you have any weapon that could hurt me. Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. That great storm is coming, but the tide has turned. (TT, III, v, 495)

Not only is Gandalf returned, he has returned stronger than he was. He also prophesizes that he and the others are now a part of the side which is gaining in strength, a stark contrast from the waning which characterized their forces earlier. It was a very long time before I would understand what happened to Gandalf. In my first reading, I just knew that he had died and that Something sent him back. Undoubtedly, my Christian upbringing made me assume a particular spiritual connotation to the whole event.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Onward, to King Théoden and the Golden Hall

What Do You Think?

What was your reaction to Gandalf’s reappearance?
​What did you make of his premonition?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt. 24–Legolas

I always found Legolas’s character arc to be one that begins in haughtiness and becomes more approachable as he engages in the hardships of the Fellowship. Looking back with a wider literary reference frame than I had in my first reading, I would almost say that my first interpretation of his transformation would not raise any eyebrows if it were set in a Jane Austen novel, though his bow skills might.

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Image copyright Alan Lee

He is always quick-witted, especially when engaging in repartee with Gimli; however, this arguing transforms into a light-hearted badinage by the end of their time together in Rohan. I always enjoyed watching these two become friends over the course of the tale and appreciated the note about their friendship in the appendices.

As an individual, Legolas is a formidable bowman, he does not defy the law of gravity mind you. He is always a reliable aid to his companions and he shows up when he is needed. For all of these elements, though, I never really felt drawn to Legolas as a character. I think his oft-mentioned ethereal nature made him seem remote from me as a young reader. He was a character to be marveled at, when he walks on the snow of Caradhras, for instance, but not related to.

I think this was underscored for me in Lothlórien when the elves are grieving for Gandalf. Legolas refuses to translate their song for the Fellowship and, by extension, the reader. This always made me feel as though Legolas wanted to be an outsider in some ways. Surely my interpretation of Legolas was, and is, a projection of a part of myself, in that I am reading what I would desire if I were to act as Legolas. To me, though, it is not until later when he volunteers to follow Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead that his desire for attachment is demonstrated.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I suppose we should talk about being ‘Orc dragged’ across Rohan.

What Do You Think?

What was your initial reaction to Legolas?
Did you like Jackson’s super-elf?
​Have I missed anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.21–Boromir the Brave

In a previous post, I indicated that the death of Boromir was not the “breaking” of the fellowship, but its mending. Many readers may question my ability to see this act in such a positive light, given my previous post about my mistrust of Boromir. As I stated earlier, I saw Boromir as totally “corrupted” by the Ring, and this only exhibited itself when Boromir had a chance to fulfill his desires. To me, the fact that Frodo left the company means that Boromir, for all intents and purposes, could never fulfill his desire to obtain the Ring for use in battle. This allows him to be free to be a noble, valiant, courageous man in his final act. No longer under the burden of the ring, his true nature comes back. This does not undermine my earlier interpretation at all. In fact, it bolsters my perspective that Boromir was under the Ring’s influence for the entire trip.

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Image copyright Jef Murray

Several readers will identify the flaw in this reasoning, and I will remind them that I was eleven at the time. The fact is, Boromir did not know that the Ring was lost forever at the time of his sacrifice. He knew that Frodo had run away from him and that enemies were attacking. It is possible that Frodo could be hiding until the attack is over, then he could reappear and oust Boromir from the group. Whatever the case may be, my interpretation is not entirely supported by the sequence of events for the characters in the text. As a child, though, I already knew that Frodo was gone from the fellowship and out of Boromir’s reach, so this influenced my interpretation of events.

This is another instance of what can be called, and has been called by many (most notably Harold Bloom), ‘misreading.’ It is an interpretation of the text that is that a reader honestly holds until she/he later interprets the text in a different way. I should note that, while some of these ‘misreadings’ sometimes prove to be invalid after a later examination of the text, that does not change the important influence that such a reading can have on the reader. In fact, these misreading are an important part of the reader’s experience of the text, since the correction or alteration of interpretation is not a unique experience among readers.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Into the land of the Horse Lords: Rohan!

What Do You Think?

Do you have a ‘misreading’ experience like this?
If so, how has it changed your view of the text over time?
​Am I missing something? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.20–Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Unlike the death of Gandalf, I saw the fissures forming in the Fellowship long before Frodo set out on his own. The decision seemed like the appropriate one to me, and I loved how Sam is the only member of the Fellowship that understands how Frodo is thinking; this understanding put Sam and me in a very small club together. This was one of the first scenes where I started to understand Sam’s depth. His ability to parse out his master’s actions and understand the animating emotions is more than I expected of Sam up to this point. We will have more on my interpretation of Sam later, when he really comes into his own.

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Image copyright Cor Blok

For now, I also wanted to focus on the importance of the “breaking” of the Fellowship. Many fans cheered Jackson’s decision to include the death of Boromir in the first film. I have to admit that I did not appreciate the change for several reasons. First, is the fact that Tolkien’s text is formatted in such a way to emphasize that the end of the Fellowship is not death, but the physical, and perhaps mental, splitting of the group. If death were the cause for the ending of the Fellowship, then the Fellowship was already broken in Moria. The end of the Fellowship, however, is when Boromir falls to temptation and tries to take the ring. This sparks an abiding mistrust in Frodo. This infighting and conflict is the brokenness indicated by the chapter title.

This idea is underscored in the first chapter of the second volume. Here, Boromir mends the rent he caused by dying for Pippin and Merry; furthermore, Aragorn indicates that, if the Fellowship remains true to one another, then it will not have been in vain, regardless of the outcome.

‘My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part. Yet we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left’ (TT, I, i, 419).

Therefore the “breaking” of the Fellowship is a temporary condition that exists in the gap between books two and three. It is rectified by Boromir’s death, not caused by it.

This sentiment is one that I felt when I was younger, but I could not really express it well. It has taken considerable time and reflection to be able to make it seem as clean and neat as it does here.

Where do wee go from here?

I want to focus on Boromir’s death a bit more, then head into Rohan!

​What do you think?

Did you like Jackson’s change?
What do you think is the true “breaking of the Fellowship?”
​Have I missed something? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.15–Caradhras Changes Everything

I have always had inordinately strong opinions about the passage about Caradhras. In fact, it was changes made to this episode that made me shout “no!” when I went to see Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Rings in theaters.

I was familiar with other literature that gave a sense of autonomy to nature before I read LotR, and I was excited to see that Tolkien does the same throughout the text, even before getting to the fully autonomous Treebeard. As a child, I loved the idea that trees could have volition and emotions. Tolkien takes this wondrous idea and pushes it one step further in the Caradhras episode. As the snows on Caradhras foil the attempt of the Fellowship to pass over the mountain, this exchange occurs:

‘We cannot go further tonight,’ said Boromir. ‘Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.’

‘I do call it the wind,’ said Aragorn. ‘But that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.’

‘Caradhras was called the Cruel, and had an ill name,’ said Gimli, ‘long years ago, when the rumor of Sauron had not been heard in these lands.’ (FOTR, II, iii, 289)

Here Boromir tries to attribute the malevolent weather to Sauron or one of his agent; however, but Aragorn and Gimli are quick to halt this impulse and clarify that there are other forces at play in the world. Gimli goes so far as to specify that the will is probably that of Caradhras himself.

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Image copyright Ted Nasmith

I cannot emphasize this enough: this passage changed my worldview the first time I read it. To ascribe volition to not just plants, but to all of nature, to the very earth itself! This was a truly awe-inspiring thought for me. I remember walking around for days thinking about the ramifications of this idea. What does it mean to till an earth that could feel the cuts? What does it mean to dynamite a mountain that can fight back? To this day, I occasionally ponder this “what if” question when I consider my lifestyle.

Let me be clear, I did not instantly change and become an eco-warrior or any of the other clichés, but this passage made me think about how I affected the soil, the rock, and the foundations of our planet for the very first time. I had already learned about trees and had Arbor Day plantings and such, but this was so much more inclusive than those lessons. If you can impact the ground, then make an influence on the world in every second of every day.

Imagine watching Peter Jackson’s movie after that. Jackson ascribes the wind to Saruman! Doing so completely changes Tolkien’s entire conception. It flattens all of nature, except Ents/Huorns, to mere things with no will or agency. This was by far the biggest disappointment for me leaving the theater.

LotRFI Pt.14–Wargs

The beginning of the next episode which features wild animals is remarkably contrary to the crebain incident. Without warning, Aragorn names the enemy: “Aragorn leapt to his feet. ‘How the wind howls! He cried. ‘It is howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the Mountains!’” (FR, II, iv, 297) The story then becomes a rapid exchange of dialogue as the Fellowship makes decisions and outlines plans for their journey. Then there is a lull in the activity as the Fellowship makes camp and sets a watch against the wolves. Then, the fight begins as Wargs encircle the camp and the Fellowship is forced to fend them off.

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Image copyright Katarzyna Chmiel-Gugulska

This encounter always reminded me of the fight where Strider, Frodo, and the other hobbits struggled against the Ringwraiths near Weathertop. In each case the protagonists are encircled by enemies near a campfire and must use fire itself to drive away the enemy. It is probably this desired parallel that makes Gandalf’s role so significant to me. Unlike the somewhat successful attack by the Ringwraiths earlier, Gandalf, with some assistance from Legolas, drives away the Wargs before they can hurt anyone. Gandalf puts forth some of his power, seeming to grow in stature and power, as he grabs a branch and with it causes “fire to leap from tree-top to tree-top” until “the whole hill was crowned with dazzling light” (FR, II, iv, 299). At this sight, and the death of their leader, the Wargs flee. Gandalf’s might and skill saves the group and keeps the wolves at bay until they can reach Moria. While the crebain serve to deepen the ominous atmosphere in Hollin, the Fellowship confronts the wolves and staves them off. While there is still fear of their return, there is every indication that this is a manageable threat.


As a note of full disclosure: I read The Call of the Wild by Jack London a few years before LotR. It quickly became one of my favorite books when I was around ten years old. I enjoyed the escapism I found in the Alaskan wild and the grittiness of the writing; however, I mostly enjoyed the book because I loved Buck, the canine protagonist who relates the story. I undoubtedly channeled some of the horrific images from that book into the threat presented by the Wargs here.


Where do We Go From Here?

I want to take a step back, chronologically, and take some time to ruminate on Caradhras. This was a particularly important insight for me, and I hope I can do it justice!

What Do You Think?

I have depicted my first interpretation of the Crebain the Warg encounters as very different in nature. Do you agree with this perspective? Do I miss some important similarities?

LotRFI Pt.13–Crebain

After leaving Rivendell, the narrative makes many asides into the description of geography and scenery, and there is much interaction among the Fellowship which helps to establish each character as well as their roles within the group; however, there are two major encounters with groups of wild animals that I want to look at in a bit more detail: the crebain and the wolves.

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Image copyright Daniel Govar

The Fellowship encounters the crebain in the land of Hollin, little more than a fortnight out from Rivendell. Unlike the movie interpretation of these events, the significance of the crebain is not in their appearance, but in the silence which their approach instills in the land. Aragorn observes how “No folk dwell here now, but many other creatures live here at times…Yet now all things are silent. I can feel it” (FotR, II, iii, 284). This passage is so ominous that I underlined it several times. As a reader, I was very afraid of anything that could cause an entire region to change its character! I imagined some sort of invisible blight that had somehow scared all of the animals of the area, but left the land untouched. What kind of monstrosity would be capable of such a thing?

It is because of this anticipatory passage that the appearance of the crebain is so impactful: What starts as a shadow in the distance takes on an ominous import as the source of such devastation and fear. This led to an interesting fluctuation of emotions for me. At first the cloud terrified me. Then, as I discovered, along with Sam, that it was simply a large flock of birds, I felt a sense of relief. Aragorn’s reaction to the birds, and his subsequent explanation of their significance renewed my sense of looming fear. The trick that Tolkien pulls here he does several times (including earlier with the black riders), and I do not know that I had ever before experienced this unique skill by any other author. He started with a kind of anxiety about the unknown cause of the stillness in Hollin, and somehow Tolkien identifies the immediate cause of the anxiety for the reader, but still leaves an ominous foreboding and completely unanswered questions. In my previous readings, whenever the source of the anxiousness was identified, there was something to be done. The enemy could be faced, fled, or reasoned with. The enemy became a known quantity. In this instance, the reader understands that the crebain are simply an implement. Whether they spotted the Fellowship or not is left uncertain, as is their ultimate master, although there are some pointed speculations. Furthermore, simply because they are under a malevolent influence does not entirely answer the question of why all of Hollin has gone quiet. What do the beasts and other birds have to fear from the master of the crebain?

While it was such a small occurrence when compared to the quest of the Ring, this episode really had an effect on my reading as a child. Largely because a part of the natural world is here used as an implement of evil, the event underscored my cautiousness and unwillingness to trust in characters with an unknown past (including Boromir).